By Josh Farmer, IndyCar Reporter & NASCAR Contributor
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Simon Pagenaud claimed his first win in nearly two years and his first for Team Penske under a bit of controversy.
Pagenaud’s didn’t take the lead until lap 54, but his march to the front started at the very beginning as he muscled past Scott Dixon on the first lap to move into second place behind teammate Helio Castroneves who dominated the opening stint of the race.
Dixon ran around 1.5s in arrears to Castroneves and ended up stretching his fuel one lap more than the Brazilian which proved dividends as he was able to re overtake Pagenaud for second place. Over the course of the second stint, Dixon slowly but surely closed in on Castroneves as Dixon’s red tires came up to temperature and the two navigated lapped traffic.
The lapped traffic proved to hamper Castroneves as by lap 33 as Dixon cut the lead was down to just under 2 seconds. Dixon pitted on lap 51 and switched to the option red tires which then allowed him to take the lead from Castroneves just a lap later. Behind the top two, Pagenaud managed to stretch his fuel an extra lap than Dixon and saw his opportunity to take the lead following his pitstop.
With Dixon closing fast down Shoreline Drive, Pagenaud exited the pits and crossed the blend line just before the line ended and took the lead from Dixon, which brought the rulebook into question. The rule in question: rule 126.96.36.199., states that a driver cannot have more than two wheels over the line when exiting the pits. Following a review by race control, Pagenaud was issued a warning.
Pagenaud soldiered on and kept Dixon ahead by just over a second and a half with just 10 laps to go, lapped traffic came back into play. With one lap left, Dixon took out a chuck of Pagenaud’s lead as he hit some lapped cars heading into the turn 11 hairpin.
It proved to be not enough as Pagenaud kept Dixon behind him over the short dash across to the start finish line.
“When you have Scott Dixon behind you, you always need to push it,” he said. “You push it as hard as you can. He was really, really pushing. We were saving fuel, still. There was a lot of, that was the funniest thing I’ve seen, there was a lot of marble on the race track on the race line in the hairpin and I was really struggling to turn the car there. I was trying not to lose any time in the last section to create a gap, and it worked.”
Dixon called the race stewards ruling into questions following the non-penalty of Pagenaud.
“I don’t know what has happened there with no warnings anymore,” he said. “Apparently the 22 car got a warning for that opposed to getting a penalty.”
Castroneves had to save fuel at the end of the race but still managed to end the day in third place while Juan Pablo Montoya made it three Team Penske cars in the top five. Takuma Sato consistently ran smooth but aggressive throughout the day and ended the day in fifth place.
Image: Edmund Jenks